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Know Your Rights on State Patty’s Day

This year, the State College community has focused all their efforts on fighting the “menace” that is State Patty’s Day. They’re bringing in the cavalry, police from beyond just Centre County in an attempt to halt our drunken revelry. They’ll even be positioning officers in the hallways of apartments in an effort to crack down on both dangerous and underage drinking.

In a time like this, it’s easy to feel scared or intimidated. It’s easy to avoid drinking altogether in fear of getting arrested, or cited for any number of offenses–underages if  you’re not 21, furnishing, public drunkenness, or a myriad of other charges. But if you know your rights, your chances of making it through State Patty’s with a clean record can rise exponentially.

I talked to Benjamin Nystrom, the director of UPUA Legal Affairs, who cleared up a number of questions regarding student behavior this weekend.

First and foremost, although downtown apartment buildings might be crawling with police, you don’t have to let them into your apartment.

“Even if they knock on your door, you still don’t have to let them in,” Nystrom explained.

Because police can’t even go that far without probable cause, or a warrant, the best tip is to come out into the hall, and to tell them you’ll turn the noise down, but that you don’t feel comfortable with them coming in without a warrant.

“The person opening the door should be 21,” Nystrom said, “and there shouldn’t be any visible alcohol inside the apartment.”

But what if you’re walking around downtown? Can a police officer just stop you if he thinks you’ve been drinking?

“The letter of the law says that you have to be visibly intoxicated,” according to Nystrom. “If you’re stumbling around, or getting sick, they’re allowed to get you for that. If you get belligerent or if you’re yelling, too.”

Even though an officer can not legally stop you unless you’re committing a criminal act, sometimes, the police can over-step their bounds, and you don’t want to get in a case of “he-said, she-said,” because the police have more authority in a court of law.

“There’s a fine line between if you’re actually acting drunk, or if they just say you are,” Nystrom said, recounting the tale of a girl who tripped and was charged with public drunkenness.

Finally, if you’re under the age of 21, a whole new set of problems arise, but you still have a defense.

Nystrom explains that pleading the fifth is always the best policy: “When they ask you for anything, or for your ID, tell them you refuse to do so unless your lawyer is present.”

And though an officer could bring you in, and hold you, “they probably won’t, because it’s such a busy day and that’s so trivial.”

Of course, the same rules apply, that an officer can’t simply stop you for no apparent reason–you must be either visibly drunk or give the police reason to believe you’re underage.

That last tip is Nystrom’s best advice for handling State Patty’s Day.

“Obviously you don’t want to be a dick, but show them that you know the rules and the law, and leave it at that, and don’t be disrespectful.”

If you do get in trouble with the law, you’ll be looking at a two-pronged process: a criminal case against you in the courts, and a disciplinary action from Penn State’s Judicial Affairs. Though you’ll need a lawyer for that first part, UPUA Legal Affairs can help you through the Judicial Affairs process.

About the Author

Devon Edwards

Devon is a 2012 Penn State graduate and current law student at NYU. Devon joined Onward State in January of 2011, after a lengthy stay in the comment section. His likes include sabermetrics, squirrels, and longs walks on the beach, and his dislikes include spelunking, when you put your clothes in the dryer and they come out still kinda damp but also warm, and the religious right.


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